Can small local companies be persuaded that TV advertising works?

A Sky Media scheme offers SMEs geotargeted advertising to the most relevant audience

Lucy Nagle’s Cashmere brand

Lucy Nagle’s Cashmere brand

 

“People were amazed to see a wee shop in Donegal advertise on Sky,” says Martin McElhinney, managing director of McElhinney’s department store in Ballybofey, adding that the experience of advertising on TV for the first time in 20 years was “quite the education for us”. Both responses neatly encapsulate how much a win-win the AdSmart SME Support Scheme has been for Sky Media, the advertising unit of the broadcaster, pay TV and broadband company.

In May – when the country was deep in lockdown and advertising campaigns were (at best) deferred as budgets were frozen or collapsed, and there was still airtime to fill – Sky Media announced a scheme whereby small and medium-sized Irish businesses could apply for €10,000 worth of free advertising from a pot of €250,000. It was vastly oversubscribed, with 150 SMEs applying for 25 places.

The clear win for Sky was that the scheme worked as an explainer on “addressable” advertising (Sky calls its version AdSmart) to SMEs, a key user of this form of targeted media buying.

At present the geo-targeting element is county-based, but by the end of the year Sky Media says it will be far narrower, using the first three digits of subscribers’ Eircodes

The technology, which Sky has used since 2017 and Virgin Media will begin using later this year, allows advertisers to target certain subscribers rather than the entire audience of a particular ad break.

At present the geo-targeting element is county-based, but by the end of the year Sky Media says it will be far narrower, using the first three digits of subscribers’ Eircodes. Reaching only viewers within a particular radius, as tight at 5km, is the next step, something that will appeal to retailers and local services.

In the US, where the technology is advanced – though still a fraction of overall TV advertising spend – it’s referred to as “narrowcast”, a broadcast message delivered only to a particular audience.

To be eligible for a free campaign, the Irish SMEs had to be either new to TV or returning after an absence of 12 months; they had to supply a 30-second ad and, after the campaign ended, give feedback to Sky Media about their experience.

Some of the companies that made it on air during the summer through the scheme included athleisure brand Gym + Coffee, beauty brand The Skin Nerd and online gift marketplace Cuando.

Viable medium

While McElhinney’s has been selling online since 2011 and uses social media, “TV was not on my radar”, says its managing director. His brief to the Sky planning team was to focus on women aged 35 plus in the west of Ireland, but also Dublin, where he already has online shoppers. As for measurability, it’s hard to attribute sales directly to the TV campaign, he says, though “if an ad was on at say 10pm, the website would have a spike in traffic”. The experience has convinced the Donegal retailer that “TV is a viable medium for the business”.

For Lucy Nagle, founder of her eponymous cashmere brand, the experience of advertising on TV for the first time was positive. Selling online and also through Brown Thomas, her brief was to target AB1 viewers. “With TV advertising you’re not going to see an instant jump in sales. It’s a slow burn. It’s about brand building.”

Since launching her luxury knitwear brand in 2013, she has invested heavily in quality visuals, mostly filming in Cape Town, for its locations and pool of international models – for marketing campaigns that typically focus on fashion press and social media.

Nagle works with influencers such as Laura Wills in the UK and Pippa O’Connor in Ireland, and she says the impact on sales through those channels is instant. “If [Wills] posts a picture on Instagram [wearing a Nagle cashmere] there’s an immediate spike in online sales with multiple orders for that particular sweater.” The brand’s most popular product during lockdown was a €350 cashmere tracksuit. And while her data analytics showed a bump in visits to her website when one of the ads aired on any of the Sky stations, even targeted TV can’t deliver the instant sales measurability of social media.

Though for Nagle, “being on TV elevates the brand. It helps bring it to a new level.” Her comment reflects the prestige TV advertising still holds.

She worked with Javelin, a Dublin advertising agency, supplying them with uncut video content from a recent fashion shoot. Edited to a soundtrack it’s a sophisticated and vibrant 30-second ad, with production values that could happily sit in an ad break alongside any international brand.

Speed bump

And that’s where addressable advertising could hit a speed bump along its road to geographical targeting. The varying quality of the 30-second ads produced by the SMEs highlights a potential issue in opening up TV to small and medium companies, which inevitably have modest marketing budgets.

Malcolm Murray, director of Ireland sales for Sky Media, acknowledges that quality can be an issue with addressable advertising

As viewers we are used to big-budget ads with production values that are the same or better than the programmes they book-end. It’s nearly an unspoken contract with the viewer, especially on subscription channels , where viewers can choose to skip the ads by watching on demand.

An ad for a local plumber appearing in the break next to a cinematic ad for a glossy international brand is surely going to jar.

Malcolm Murray, director of Ireland sales for Sky Media, acknowledges that quality can be an issue with addressable advertising. To try to tackle that, AdSmart has a production fund which its advertisers can tap into to make better-quality ads; he cites Sonas Bathrooms as an example of a company that has availed of the fund. TV adverts, he argues, don’t have to cost hundreds of thousands to make. Ultimately, he says, viewers will appreciate seeing advertising that is relevant to them.

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